Nov 212008

Delicious Irony

Delicious Irony

 

Great coverage in The Washington Post of an ironic aspect to the auto industry's poverty plea for a government bail-out this week.

 

The three execs from GM, Ford, and Chrysler each took a separate private jet from Detroit to DC for the Congressional hearings for the occasion. 

 

I'm not a fan of Congressional hearing grandstanding and think most members of congress are asses when they do things like this, but not this time.  These guys had it coming and clearly don't have a clue about symbolism (either the importance of it or the art of it). 

 

The details are rich.  Read them here.  Thanks to my colleague Stephanie Miller for pointing this one out.  Yeesh.

Filed under: Current Affairs, Leadership

Nov 172008

I Wonder if I Could Ever Work for a Big Company

I Wonder if I Could Ever Work for a Big Company

And I mean a REALLY BIG one.  At my high school reunion last weekend, my friend Jason, who I hadn’t seen in 10 years (and only once in the last 20), heard what I’m doing with my life, and said to me “I’m so glad for you.  I couldn’t figure out if you were going to do big company or something entrepreneurial.  I’m sure you would have done well either way, but isn’t what you’re doing more fun?”

 

I think he’s right.  It is more fun.  Every time I have a meaningful interaction with a friend or client inside a huge company, I come away shaking my head a bit.  The politics of huge organizations are a little mind-numbing.  People seem obsessed with it – who reports to whom, who is in and who is out, to the point where it must distract them from their actual work.  And as far as I can tell, most (though certainly not all) large companies do major reorganizations every 12 months that also stop business dead in its tracks.  It’s a wonder companies like that get anything done at all.

 

This notion was reinforced for me at a two-day training seminar I attended last week on Balanced Scorecard implementation, something we’re rolling out now at Return Path.  It was a good training course, but not geared to C-level execs at growth companies.  Most of the people in attendance were mid-level managers at big companies who were “project managing” Balanced Scorecards.  As a result, sections of the course were devoted to topics like “finding an executive sponsor” and “selling the idea up the management chain.”  Oy!

 

The kind of work I love doing is work that has a direct impact, a real connection to the company’s results.  Work that is, well, work, not time spent figuring out how to get work done.  Maybe this isn’t fair – I’m sure there are perfectly good BIG companies out there that don’t function this way – but they do seem to be few and far between.

 

I hope Jason is right – if I were to work in a big company, I’d do well – but boy does it sound like not fun.  Or at least it sounds like not productive work.

Filed under: Entrepreneurship

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Nov 112008

If You’re Going to Do Something, Do It First Class

If You’re Going to Do Something, Do It First Class

 

I have long made this statement, not just about business, but about life.  Why bother doing something big if you’re not going to do it right?  Don’t just write a senior thesis, get an A on it.  Don’t invite the boss over for dinner and serve chicken nuggets.  You get the idea.

 

Our marketing team at Return Path totally nailed this last week with our IN conference on Reputation.  They selected a venue, the American Museum of Natural History, that wasn’t just a standard issue hotel conference room.  They sought out a killer keynote speaker, Seth Godin, instead of just having Return Path staff and clients talk.  They used Perception Analyzer, a new technology to integrate audience polling into the presentations instead of just serving up one bullet-point slide after the next.  They went above and beyond and paid attention to every last detail. 

 

All these things made the event harder to pull off (and more expensive), but collectively they made the day absolutely First Class — and that was noted by every attendee who I spoke with during and after the event as they gushed about the quality of the conference.

 

The proof is always in the pudding with these things, and we’ll have to measure our ROI on the event over the next few months in terms of new sales and client retention, but I bet that the quality and remarkability of the event will prove the axiom that If You’re Going to Do Something, Do It First Class.

Filed under: Business, Marketing, Return Path

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Nov 112008

Why Do I Have to Be Frisked to Go to an NFL Game?

Why Do I Have to Be Frisked to Go to an NFL Game?

 

I am freaked out about terrorism as much as the next person, but our obsession with security has gone too far.  Some of the airport-related security is dumb enough — I can’t hijack a plane with my shampoo any more — but at least there’s some logic to the general premise.

 

But the major pat-down I got last weekend when I went to see the Chargers beat the Chiefs was just silly.  It certainly didn’t make me feel more secure sitting in the stadium.  It wouldn’t have even occurred to me to feel insecure in the first place. 

 

The experience reminded me of all the medium-security office buildings in New York City.  What does signing-in really do for the building’s safety?  If you want to x-ray people and their bags on the way in, fine.  But a quick visual scan of my drivers’ license and asking me to write in which floor I’m going to…what does that actually do?

 

And in the meantime, my understanding is that 95% of cargo containers coming into our ports still go uninspected.  Go figure.

Nov 052008

Lessons from the Election

Lessons from the Election

There will be so many of these posts flying around the web today and in the coming weeks, but there’s at least one lesson from yesterday’s election that really struck me in the context of business leadership:  the importance of authenticity.

Obama won — and McCain lost — for many reasons.  But I think one of the main ones is that McCain didn’t run as McCain.  The number of Democrats and Independents who I heard say things like “I would have voted for the McCain who ran in 2000,” or Hillary supporters who said they’d never vote for Obama against McCain and then did, was huge.

McCain is a maverick.  There’s no doubt about that.  But he didn’t run as one — he tried to be something he’s not by pandering so much to the Republican Party’s base that he forgot who he was.  The result was a candidate who didn’t look comfortable in his own skin, who lacked a focused message, and who didn’t come across as himself. 

In politics, lack of authenticity is worse than the “flip flopper” charges that get thrown about so often.  Everyone’s entitled to a change of opinion on a key issue here and there as circumstances change.  Mitt Romney may have switched his view on abortion, for example, but you never had any doubt where he stood on it in the present and future.  With McCain, on the other hand, no one could tell how he’d actually govern and what positions he’d really take on a bunch of key issues because his whole persona seemed to shift.

The lesson for business leaders?  BE YOURSELF.  Could you see through McCain?  Your people can see right through you.  They may or may not appreciate you, your style, your humor, your decisions — but as long as they can tell where you’re coming from, you have a good shot at leading them.

Filed under: Current Affairs, Leadership

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Nov 032008

No Separation Anxiety

No Separation Anxiety

 

When we announced last week that we were selling our Email Change of Address (ECOA) business unit to our competitor Fresh Address as part of our corporate restructuring that allows us to focus exclusively on our flagship deliverability and whitelisting business, a bunch of people asked if me if that decision was emotional or difficult.  As ECOA was Return Path’s initial business — you know, the one that was going to be $100 million in revenues within 5 years — shouldn’t I be sad to see it go?

 

In the end, it wasn’t a difficult decision to sell the business.  Times have changed.  While it still works well as a product and generates profitable revenue, our company has been completely transformed over the years, first into a broad-based provider of multiple email-marketing and market research services; and more recently into a pure play in email deliverability and whitelisting.  I think the reason the decision wasn’t difficult has more to do with the fact that we haven’t done much to update the product or think about it or invest in it in almost five years.  So selling it was sort of like going to a funeral of a beloved relative who has suffered a long bout of Alzheimer’s Disease — the end is sad, but you really had to say goodbye to the loved one and come to terms with the situation many years before.

 

While my cofounders George and Jack and I all believe that ECOA could still be a big business some day, it’s clearly not in our critical path to build it out.  We wish our friends at Fresh Address good luck and ask them to take good care of our baby — and our clients!

 

But as this transaction does give one a moment to reflect, and as I am always a fan of remembering one’s roots and honoring one’s history, I will note that were it not for ECOA, Return Path wouldn’t be here today.  The initial team and first few years of the business were wonderful “startup” years, and that foundation we built from 1999-2002 around expertise in email, a deep commitment to consumer privacy and choice, and a fantastic client base, serve us well to this day.

 

So on that note, I thought I’d end this note with a big thank you to the original Return Path team from 1999-2000 who got the company started.  Our early senior team included Jack Sinclair, Karl Florida, Mary Lynn McGrath, Dave Paulus, John Ventura, and Vince Sabio.  We were joined when we merged with Veripost in 2001 by founding execs George Bilbrey, Eric Kirby, Kevin O’Connell, and Andy Sautins.  Other early employees still with the company today are Chad Malchow, Patty Mah, Sophie Miller Audette, Paul Buster, and Tammy Somsky Shimp.  Other early employees now counted as alumni are Jennifer St. Onge Wilson, Andrew Wilson, Jennifer Roller, Alexis Katzowitz, Beth Feresten, Rebecca Thomas, Amy Leymaster, Tim Dolan, John Darrah, Chris Wade, Rachel Moore, Doug Campell, Brent Wagner, Matt Spielman, Michael Doherty, Steve Gorman, Linda Ryan, Rory Carr Alison Murdock, Edwin Castillo, Austin Kenny, Julia Knowlton, Topher McGibbon, Kevin King, Brendon Kearney, Kate Kuckro, Suzanne Halbeisen, Neil Cohen, Jon Pierce, Aaron Couts, Nick Nicholas, Michael Zhang, and Melanie Danchisko.  And finally, I’ll extend the thank you to Jeremy Dean and Dan Diekhoff, who while not early employees, have largely assumed the operational burden for running and maintaining ECOA these last few years.

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